A BURNLEY postman who stashed away more than 31,000 letters and parcels at his home has been spared jail.

Steve Tasker, 43, of Eastham Street, hoarded a 'staggering' amount of post for up to three-and-a-half years.

Burnley Crown Court was told Tasker also stole £200 sent in gift cards, including cash meant for an 18th birthday.

He apologised for his actions and said he deserved to go to prison after a judge gave him 'a chance' as he looked after his disabled wife and daughter.

He said: “Personally I think I should have gone to prison. I know I have done wrong and I am sorry.

“The judge obviously realised that I had to look after my family, they need me to be here and I am grateful I am able to still look after them.

“It was a very stressful and difficult time, I was looking after my wife and daughter and that in itself was a full-time job.

"There just weren’t enough hours in the day."

Tasker, who was to tell bosses he had sometimes been too drunk to do his round, kept almost 16,000 mail items in or behind his garden shed.

They were wrapped in plastic carrier bags to try and keep them dry.

Tasker, then a postman for 12 years, had been put under surveillance by the Royal Mail last September after reports from the public about mail not being delivered.

On the day he was observed, he didn't start on his round until noon at the earliest, finished about 2pm and had left more than 300 packets undelivered.

He later admitted he had left the Post Office at about 9am and had then done some shopping, gone home for his breakfast, had some cider, been to the bookies and was drunk.

The hearing was told Tasker, an asthmatic, had a 'tough time' at home, looking after his wife and daughter who are both disabled, almost single-handedly.

His wife wiped away tears in the public gallery as a judge said, if he was locked up, she and their daughter would be the ones to suffer.

Recorder Philip Grundy ruled the circumstances of the case were exceptional.

The defendant admitted interfering with mail between March 2007 and September 2010, damage, and theft between August and September last year.

He was given 32 weeks in jail, suspended for a year, with 12 months' supervision and alcohol treatment and the Thinking Skills programme.

John Gibson, prosecuting for the Royal Mail, said last September 15, Tasker was put under surveillance.

At about 4.30pm, officers went to a pouch box and found 331 items of post he was supposed to have delivered that day still there.

Officers, with his agreement, went to search his house and found a 'massive interference' with mail.

In the property were 15,253 postal packets, some on top of the fridge and some of them dating back to March 2007.

A further 15,831 items were found in the garden shed or behind it, in a bin.

About 1,000 packets were water-damaged.

A total of 43 greetings card-type letters had been opened between last August and September.

Mr Gibson said it cost the Royal Mail £1,530 to sort all the postal packets discovered and finally deliver them with an apology.

Tasker had paid it out of his pension fund.

Mark Stuart, for Tasker, said the vast majority of the post was unopened.

He had undoubtedly had a drink problem, health difficulties, family commitments and had been struggling to cope.

His wife had cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a weakness on one side of her body. Their daughter attended a special school.

Sentencing Tasker, Recorder Grundy said: "I am giving you a chance.

"It's having had the benefit of seeing you in court and seeing your wife. That has persuaded me to suspend the sentence."

A spokesman for Royal Mail said: “Royal Mail has a zero tolerance approach to any dishonesty and that stance is shared by the overwhelming majority of postmen and women, who are honest and hardworking and who do all they can to protect the mail and deliver it safely.

"We will always seek to prosecute the tiny minority of people who abuse their position of trust."